At present, only a little more than a quarter (27%) of the global technology workforce is currently made up of women -- despite them playing a vital and active role in the profession. Perhaps this fact is unsurprising when, traditionally, technology-related roles have been targeted at and positioned for men.
Although progress has been made to increase equal access to STEM education through organisations and initiatives such as ‘Women in STEM,’ the number of women in technology roles, particularly in senior positions, has clearly not seen the same level of increase.
Additionally, when there is lower representation of any group in an industry – be that gender, race, religion, or other – it's harder for these groups to break in and feel like they are welcome, that they'll get the support they need, and that they'll have the same opportunities as everyone else.
To overcome this challenge, the tech industry needs strong role models to look up to, and they need to re-evaluate their current recruitment and retention strategies if they want to succeed in hiring and retaining employees amidst the current talent crisis.
Diversifying the talent pool
It would be impossible to speak about women in tech without mentioning Ada Lovelace, one of the most notable women in the industry who is well-recognised for being the world’s first ever computer programmer. In fact, her contribution to the STEM industry is honoured and recognised every year, amongst other women, on the second Tuesday of October – which has been deemed as ‘Ada Lovelace Day.’
In the world of cybersecurity, we also have Tarah Wheeler, Runa Sandvik, and Katie Moussouris, who was deemed one of the World’s Top 50 Women in Tech in 2018.
There are many more women I could highlight here, and the industry’s attention to their incredible work is clearly starting to help draw in new talent. A recent report on women in cybersecurity found that women now hold 25% of cybersecurity jobs globally, which is up from 20% in 2019 and around 10% in 2013. But even with this positive shift, women still remain very much in the minority and this could be one of the reasons why 3.5 million cybersecurity roles are estimated to remain vacant by 2025.
To meet this demand, the industry must diversify their talent pool and start hiring equally across gender and diversity groups. By committing to equal opportunity for all applicants, organisations can demonstrate that they don't favour one gender group over another and benefit from the value that a diverse group of individuals can bring.
An honest approach to recruitment
Ultimately, what we need to see from the industry is an honest approach to recruitment. Hiring executives need to recognise that unconscious bias will be inherent during the hiring process and implement controls to eliminate it.
For example, there is a need to train all hiring managers on the presence of unconscious bias in the workplace and what that looks like. Organisations should also revisit their job descriptions and pay attention to certain word choices – by using gender neutral terms like “motivated” and “committed” when describing the ideal candidate, and using neutral titles to reference a person
rather than gender pronouns. It’s also a good idea to start vocalising how important diversity is to your organisation – whether at staff meetings or in company-wide written communications.
It's been proven time and time again that hiring people from different backgrounds and with different experiences is a major business benefit. You need all types of thinking, and people who will challenge others' perspectives to be truly successful in business.
Giving women opportunities for these roles, especially leadership roles where they can inspire others, is a huge part of lessening the gender imbalance. In fact, women that are professionally and personally engaged with their workplace are more likely to cultivate comfortable shared experiences for other women to engage, and this is key to ensuring young women have the right role models and are inspired to enter the industry and progress in their tech careers.
Sending the right signals
If a woman is applying to a tech company and sees that 75% of the leadership team and board of directors is male, that sends a signal. Any discrimination, bullying, or negative behaviour towards women that goes without punishment will also send a signal.
The work doesn’t stop once women enter these roles. Sending the right signals, always, shows women that they are valued in their workplace and that they can achieve executive-level positions, regardless of their gender.
As well as overhauling the recruitment process to be less biased, we must continue to support women to stay in their roles. We do this by providing opportunities for them to attend courses that can advance their careers, building mentoring programs where they can learn from and be inspired by other women in their organisation, and identifying male colleagues who will act as allies in helping to raise their profiles among other leaders in their company.
It’s these series of steps – diversifying the talent pool, re-evaluating the recruitment process, and ensuring women are supported throughout their careers – that can further help women feel more comfortable in the workplace and in pursuing careers in the technology and cybersecurity industries. The talent shortage won’t solve itself. Doing all that we can to welcome women into the field will prove beneficial in our fight to meet the rising demand for talent.